President, GOP look for way out of shutdown
Closure set to hit record length; Trump backs off emergency idea
WASHINGTON — Federal workers got pay statements offering nothing but zeroes Friday, the most tangible and painful sign yet of a three-week partial government shutdown that has paralyzed Washington and is sure to become the longest closure in U.S. history. President Donald Trump and nervous Republicans scrambled to find a way out of the mess.
The House and Senate voted to give federal workers backpay whenever the federal government reopens and then left town for the weekend, leaving the shutdown on track to become one for the record books once the clock struck midnight and entered its 22nd day. And while Trump privately considered one dramatic escape route — declaring a national emergency to build the wall without a new stream of cash from Congress — members of his own party were fiercely debating that idea, and the president urged Congress to come up with another solution.
“What we’re not looking to do right now is national emergency,” Trump said. He insisted that he had the authority to do that, adding: “I’m not going to do it so fast because this is something Congress can do.”
About 800,000 workers missed paychecks Friday, many receiving blank pay statements. Some posted photos of their empty earnings statements on social media as a rallying cry to end the shutdown, a jarring image that many in the White House feared could turn more voters against the president as he holds out for billions in new wall funding.
With polls showing Trump getting most of the blame for the shutdown, the administration accelerated planning for a possible emergency declaration to try to get around Congress and fund the wall from existing sources of federal revenue. The White House explored diverting money for wall construction from a range of other accounts. One idea being considered was diverting some of the $13.9 billion allocated to the Army Corps of Engineers after last year’s deadly hurricanes and floods.
That option triggered an uproar in Puerto Rico, which is still slowly rebuilding, and appeared to lose steam on Friday.
Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas told reporters after discussions with the White House: “I feel confident disaster relief dollars will not be tapped.” Brady said the administration was looking at the “breadth” of unspent dollars in other government accounts.
Jack Lyons, a contractor working on massive rocket test stands for NASA, stands in his workshop while spending the furlough on his small side business making props for marching bands Tuesday in Madison, Ala. “They’re trying to use people as bargaining chips, and it just isn’t right,” Lyons said. Unlike civil service workers who expect to eventually get back pay, Lyons doesn’t know if he’ll ever see a dollar from the shutdown period.